I’m losing my taste for the prepackaged, the mass-produced, and the canned. It’s no longer enough to add water, microwave, stir, and eat. I want to know where things come from. I want to know how they affect me. I want to know how they were supposed to taste before the factories took over. I search obsessively for the good, the true, and the beautiful in the grooves of an LP, the pages of a book, the frames of a film, and the conversations and prayers I share with a small group of fellow pilgrims in our home. In these pages I’m going to do my best to ruin you for the cheap stuff. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what kind of coffee you drink; it is the kind of faith you live, or the kind of faith you abandon, that can make all the difference in the world. – John J. Thompson, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate (Zondervan, 2014, pages 16-17).
In Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate, musician and author John J.Thompson expresses his longing for integrity and authenticity. For him that means the twang in country music, real bread that’s made by hand with natural ingredients, chocolate that isn’t full of chemical additives or made by children enslaved by the chocolate industry, coffee that’s just as much about relationship and community as it is about the quality of the coffee bean.
On the one hand, I found myself agreeing with this book. Who wouldn’t rather have authenticity over fake anything? Handmade over mass-produced? Community over exploitation? Even if it costs more time, money, and effort to live and eat that way, it’s an excellent investment in quality, health, and human community.
On the other hand, I found myself wondering, is this simply a new brand of snobbery? A new version of North American privilege and excess for those with the luxury of choice? Does Jesus really care what kind of bread I eat?
I appreciate the way that Thompson addresses these and other questions as he shares his own story and the stories of others who seek to live out similar values. He understands the risk of snobbery and deifying a certain kind of consumption. He realizes the irony of looking up recipes on his iPhone and texting his wife about her shopping list while walking through the farmers’ market. Our daily choices raise complex spiritual, social, ethical, and emotional questions.
What’s more, Thompson’s concern goes well beyond bread and chocolate. Yes, he devotes a chapter to each, in addition to other chapters on beer, coffee, music, and other artisanal efforts. But he also sets these stories in the larger context of Christian faith. When he writes of “losing my taste for the prepackaged, the mass-produced, and the canned,” he’s not only talking about physical food. He means to address Christianity and the church. He writes,
In many ways, Wonder Bread, the soft, white stuff that tastes exactly the same from coast to coast and around the world, serves as a perfect example of our species’ worship of convenience, price, and scale. We’ve been conditioned to trade quality, flavor, and nutrition for ease and accessibility. We trade the truly good for the reasonably acceptable, whether in regard to our bread or our faith. (page 73)
Instead, Thompson challenges readers with the life and ministry of Jesus:
Everything on this planet screams, “Creation!” Jesus crafted the mountains, the seas, the deserts, the animals, the plants, and even human beings according to God’s perfectly wise plan. Then he gave us free will and the ability to imagine and dream. He created us “in his image” — a mysterious statement that at least partly points to our ability to be junior creators. We can’t speak something out of nothing, but he does invite us to participate in the ordering of our world. He honors our attempts to create. Whether it’s bread, coffee, music, a painting, or a community, when we create, we follow in his steps. . . .
My favorite creative act of Jesus was gathering blue-collar workmen and marginalized women and crafting them into a force that would change the world. He built a church — and if you’ve had a bad experience with contemporary churches, I invite you to replace the word church with community — that subversively sought out, honored, and served the unlovely, the diseased, the broken, and the dead. It breaks my heart to hear people say they love Jesus but have no use for the church. Yes, many of the corporate, industrialized aspects of the modern church bear more resemblance to the local megaplex or department store than they do to a countercultural group of ragged lovers and servants, but deep down, the church is something Jesus established. I believe today he longs to call out to her in her manufactured tomb, like he did to his friend Lazarus, “Come out!” (pages 242-243)
Your Turn: Are you convinced by Thompson’s case for crafting a handmade faith in a mass-market world?
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions I’ve expressed here are my own.